Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Suppose a young man is shot during a gunfight and paralyzed from the neck down. And suppose you're an Evangelical pastor who has a gift of healing. You're humble about it, saying "Jesus is the healer, and I am only a tool in his hands."

<![if !vml]><![endif]>Also suppose the young man repents of his sins, believes God can heal him, and asks you to pray for him. Could there be a situation in which it would be wrong to pray for the man's healing?

Author Arthur Powers explores this question in his short story "The Healer." It's part of his book of fictional narratives titled A Hero for His People: Stories from the Brazilian Backcountry, published in 2013.

Powers, an American lawyer, spent many years in Brazil as a Peace Corps volunteer. Later he worked as a layman for the Catholic Church in Brazil. The stories in this book are based on those experiences.

In the story "The Bridge," a priest suffers from something like post-traumatic stress, apparently because his work is so demanding. The church sends him back to the United States, to a place "for people who work too hard and care too much." There is a happy outcome for this priest, though it turns bittersweet in the end.

In the story titled "Come into My House and Stay," an unprincipled or misguided person sets fire to a slum. As the slum-dwellers watch "with dead faces," a Baptist minister looms like a giant on the road. His voice booms out a single phrase: "Forgive them, God. They don't know what they're doing." The slum-dwellers echo these difficult words even as their homes burn.

Mistreatment of the poor by the rich is a recurring theme in these narratives. The story "Hate" is about a land-hungry businessman bilking an illiterate farm couple out of their few acres. When he visits the unsuspecting couple, he is greeted with the words "We have very little, compadre, but what we have is yours."

This is a customary way of welcoming guests. However, the author keeps repeating the same words in different contexts till we readers grasp their deeper meaning. The couple mean they are happy to make a cup of tea for the visitor, and share whatever they have to eat. They don't understand—until too late—the heartbreaking truth that what little they have really will become the visitor's property.

The author of A Hero for the People is excellent at description. He knows how to convey a lot in a few words. For example, he describes one man as being "stubborn as a fence post." Of nightfall, he says: "Between 5:55 and 6:30 p.m., it switches from afternoon to complete dark." Describing the Bible reading in a church service, Powers says "Slowly—in the voice of a man newly practiced in reading—he proclaims the passage."

<![if !vml]><![endif]>A number of these stories have specific religious content. Others do not. However, each story contains a message, or lesson. Powers doesn't ladle these on. He lets readers draw their own conclusions, and displays an exquisite sense of where to end a story.

Many readers will be sorry to see Powers' book end. It's a powerful document. A Hero for the People, published by Press 53, is 190 pages long. It's available from the publisher, and also at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Barnes and Noble.

Elma Schemenauer CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS: 1940s novel about love, Mennonites, faith, & betrayal.   http://elmams.wix.com/sflwrs   http://elmams.wix.com/elma  http://elmasalmanac.blogspot.ca/

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